Wednesday, May 16, 2012
Time magazine recently had a jointly inspiring and confused commentary on what's wrong with education. The thing on which we'll focus here is what's inspiring. In the meantime, we need to dispel some confusion.
The confused part of this plea is in his assigning blame. Klein would have us believe this condition is the fault of the "education establishment." A headline also makes liberals villains, saying that vocational education is "dismissed by the left."
Let me say first that if my liberal brethren were to blame for this, shame on us. But we aren't. And whatever share of blame it might have, the "education establishment" isn't to blame either for what's become of vocational education. That establishment is only responding to the whims of its bosses: state legislatures and (since No Child Left Behind) Congress and the White House.
There. Blame away.
Blame "school accountability," which could be called "the quest for educational uniformity." Blame duped taxpayers as well for assenting to the bogus notion that standardization is education and competence is excellence. Another wrong notion built into "accountability": that "college readiness" is what every effort should be about, by law, as if mind-numbing standardization could possibly produce it.
Blame high-stakes testing that forces schools to emphasize "test criteria" at the exclusion of everything else. This is most pronounced, of course, in "failing schools" (meaning: in pockets of poverty). They constantly are forced to ramp up their emphasis on basic skills and whatever the states demand of them.
And what do the states demand? That the schools produce students headed toward college through the straits denoted by the pillars of ACT and SAT.
The states insist that all students be directed toward college-level algebra. The states insist on increasing core-subject regimentation — so much English, so much science, so much math, so much this, so much that.
Vocational education? Who has the time?
Time — the magazine — takes readers to a stunningly successful program that runs up against the college-track conveyor-belt fixation and bursts right through.
An agriculture sciences program at the school on the Navajo Reservation in Kayenta, Ariz., turns students on to real-world challenges like veterinary medicine and animal husbandry, while making them better overall students.
Unfortunately, one subtext of the expressed appeal behind such a program is slightly misguided — the subtext that this is solely about directing students toward careers — in this case the careers defined by a rural and agrarian lifestyle.
Careers certainly are worthy considerations. But a problem with education, and education "reform," is that too much of the attention is on careers. While we want students to imagine themselves in said fashions, the key to success in education isn't occupation; it is fascination. If we can't get students interested in something, they aren't going to try to learn the things we want them to.
As Time points out, while vocational programs too often are seen as places where scholastic hopes go to die, the Kayenta students in the voc-ed program are blowing state standardize tests out of the water. Why? Because the disciplines in question present an "alternative way to teach them math, science and reading" — you know, through fascination.
This — relevance, multidimensional learning — is how we "fix schools," rather than devising another, tougher test, more intense "alignment" between what the state requires and what schools do.
Recently Tom Pauken, chairman of the Texas Workforce Commission, speaking to the Texas Association of College Technical Educators, made the case for more vocational and technical education. At the same time he denounced the one-size-fits-all underpinning of "standards" as now enforced:
"We have accepted for too long this misguided notion that everyone should go to a university. That flies in the face of reality and human nature. We have different talents and different abilities."
He is right. To assign a broad-based system like public schools to focus on one end result —college — is a fool's errand.
Vocational education? Oh, my goodness, bring that on, along with a host of cross-curricular endeavors that allow students to see how learning translates into living.
Anything that supplies technicolor and relevance, anything that is hands-on and collaborative, anything that isn't bubbling in test sheets and prepping for bubbling in, is better than anything "school accountability" has ever brought us.
Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wednesday, May 9, 2012
A funny thing about that dreaded "sense of entitlement" deemed so pervasive today: Those who complain the most about it often have the least reason to complain.
This is true whether the topic is food stamps, affirmative action, or any number of means of helping those on society's margins.
For every alleged college affirmative action atrocity there is the barely justified "legacy" admission. For every food-stamp horror story there is the inheritor of daddy's money who didn't earn his checkout-line bounty, either.
Which brings us to that terrible, horrible, no good destroyer of NCAA money machines: Title IX.
That would be the federal initiative, now 40 years old, that dragged college sports programs kicking and screaming toward what was right — treating men and women equally. The nerve of it all.
The May 7 Sports Illustrated features it on its cover, and it's interesting that this is one cover that has no faces, no action, just words:
"No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance. . . ."
What's also interesting is that the faces and action inside the magazine are so compelling as to be a cavalcade of magazine covers — women striving in rugged dignity, experiencing the glow of victory, or the reward for having had a shot at it.
I flash back to my high school in suburban Denver in 1971, and the shame attached to the few girls involved in sports. They were freaks, and they knew it. Our school had a track team of four, a gymnastics team without anything approaching a meet, and that was it. Girls in my home state had no basketball. No volleyball. No softball. No soccer.
To think that recently I had to sit 10 rows from the rafters of Denver's packed Pepsi Center as Baylor's Lady Bears battled Notre Dame for the NCAA women's basketball championship before an ESPN audience.
At halftime a procession of trailblazers was introduced in the long battle for equality in women's sports. How lonely they must have felt all those years ago. How under fire, as they encroached on the entitled set that didn't want to share the ball.
Sports Illustrated's Alexander Wolff writes about Ground Zero of the backlash against Title IX: Texas — how Congress beat back legislation sponsored by then Sen. John Tower and backed by University of Texas legend Darrell Royal to spare men's football and basketball from having to give an inch toward equal funding.
Wolff writes how then-UT women's athletic director Donna Lopiano provided dynamic advocacy for the counter-cause, even advising students to sue the university. (Wolff points out that Royal ultimately became a big women's sports backer.)
As one who covered sports in the '70s, I saw the same struggle at colleges big and small. One could not begrudge men's programs for protecting their turf. The coaches and athletic directors had the same mandate from their schools and boosters as before: win. And they were to do it sharing budgets with feminine types who weren't going to pay their way with big-big gate receipts?
Looking back now, the concerns are laughable. College sports is one of those endeavors in which the George Bush-ism, "Grow the pie," certainly fits. The success is stunning and affirming.
But the same can be said for any number of federal equal opportunity initiatives. Businesses kicked and screamed regarding the Americans With Disabilities Act. The republic endured, and the disabled have greater opportunities. Blowhards like Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul cavalierly talk about the ADA's destructiveness. Of course, they don't ride wheelchairs to work.
Think of the screams of horror emanating from the South's power brokers when Congress finally passed the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act — the end of the world as they knew it. The South endured. And, the power brokers found political ways to ply white angst over those changes into more power — denouncing Americans with a "sense of entitlement," of course.
Well, yes, those once marginalized were and are entitled, as the founders wrote, endowed with certain rights, including equal treatment under the law.
We hear no whining anymore about Title IX, in part because of its spectacular successes. Of course, social justice has had other successes just as spectacular, just not the stuff of pompons and ESPN.
Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: email@example.com.
Tuesday, May 1, 2012
False prophets, says the Book of Matthew, are those who "come at you in sheep's clothing," but who "inwardly are ravenous wolves."
Congressman Paul Ryan, a Catholic, tells us his call to gut social programs is in keeping with his faith, and is endorsed by his pope.
This would be a damning falsehood were Ryan's pope the one who offices at Vatican Square. It's not. The congressman's holy man has lush digs in Washington. There, moneyed interests drape papal vestments on Grover Norquist, the pope — er, president — of Americans for Tax Reform.
Remember always that when these people speak on Norquist's behalf (and most Republicans in Congress are so tasked): Their No. 1 objective is cutting taxes for people who have all they need, and never about addressing those in need.
When Ryan, interviewed on a Christian television show, painted his fiscal designs as a godly mission, he made some Catholics upset. Catholics know something about missions.
The other day as Ryan defended his line before an audience at Catholic Georgetown University, an indignant crowd protested, including a man who, matching the Illinois congressman's own audacity, identified himself as GOP Je$us. He recited the "Me-Attitudes":
"Blessed are the rich. The reign of this world is ours . . . Blessed are those who show no mercy — no mercy to the poor, to the women and children, the elderly and the homeless . . ."
Audacious, yes, but in tune with concerns of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The conference has denounced Ryan's budget — approved by the tea party-controlled House — that would dramatically cut food stamps at a time of protracted high unemployment while at the same time — praise Je$us — cutting taxes by $2 trillion.
What? Now? Aren't we told that the deficit is the nation's No. 1 problem?
All the better to cut food stamps, and Medicaid, and college loans, quoth the wolves.
At this point we need to remind ourselves how we got here. Overspending got us here. But not just overspending. Undertaxing, too. Taxes as a percent of GDP are the lowest since the early 1950s, deficits be damned.
The trend dates back to Ronald Reagan and a deceitful round of budgets, noted for "magic asterisks," a term coined by his incredulous budget director, David Stockman.
What happened under Reagan and succeeding GOP administrations was what Stockman saw: impossible arithmetic — cutting taxes, then instead of actually cutting spending sufficiently to make up the shortfall, just letting it ride. Deficit by design.
This is and was all fine by people who, in Norquist's phrasing, wanted to shrink government "down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub." Ultimately, they trusted, concerns about deficits would cause draconian, Ryan-style budgets.
Ah, but you see, the government you would drown is also the government that helps you.
Such was the realization last week when a backlash caused Congress to back away from a component of the Ryan budget which would have caused interest rates on college loans to double this summer.
Mitt Romney, who embraced the Ryan-Norquist budget, did the same about-face, or shook his Etch-a-Sketch, or whatever. He said it was wrong to make debt-ridden collegians that much more in debt. Yes, it was, and is, wrong.
The fact is, however, that someone will have to pay for the tax cuts and merciless budget cuts that tea-party Republicans want. And those feeling the pain won't be people of privilege, of full bellies, of 30-gallon gas tanks, of wine cellars.
"Your heart will always be where your treasure is," wrote Matthew — an oath that, though biblical, has received the gold-embossed seal of approval as well from Grover Norquist.
Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Texas. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.